5 July 2016
Visiting the second day of the 2016 WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport, on 25 June, Göran R Buckhorn saw a vessel that he had missed during the festival’s first day – Shannon River Marine Heritage Foundation’s Pilar, a replica of Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat. Göran writes:
Strolling around on the second day of this year’s WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, I came across a boat that I had missed on the previous day’s visit: a replica of Ernest Hemingway’s 1934 Wheeler fishing boat, the 38-foot Pilar.
I probably should apologise, this is going to be one of those ‘NRR’ (non-rowing related) articles that we publish now and then on HTBS. However, it gives me an opportunity to write a sequel to my previous piece on Ernest Hemingway, which did have some rowing and was published in mid-June – read that article here. As this replica of Pilar is used for an admirable cause, I believe it is justified that she is mentioned on HTBS.
The boat was docked in the south boat area at the show, but as there were vendors’ tents on the museum grounds, hiding whichever boats were docked in this area, it was first when you stepped down on the docks that you could really see her and the other exhibited vessels which were tied up there. A sign invited WoodenBoat Show visitors aboard ‘Hemingway’s boat’ Pilar. This replica of the author’s famous fishing boat belongs to the Shannon River Marine Heritage Foundation (SRMHF) in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The original Pilar is located at Hemingway’s house Finca Vigia, outside of Havana, Cuba, which is now a museum.
What is wonderful with this replica of Pilar is that SRMHF is using her for boating and fishing trips for wounded service men and women and other disabled people free of charge during the summer months. The boat, which is departing from Bristol, Rhode Island, is also available for public fishing charters and harbour tours on weekends, with the proceedings going to SRMHF.
After a two-year restoration and transformation, which ended in the winter of 2016, Pilar, the replica, is now a fully adaptive and wheelchair accessible vessel. Modifications were made with an aft drop-down transom for wheelchair boarding, the deck was provided with safe handicap and wheelchair seating, a wheelchair hydraulic lift was installed to make the cabin and the head accessible from the deck – and the head and galley are really spacious, which you are able to see in the photographs in this article.
Ernest Hemingway obtained Pilar in April 1934 from Wheeler Shipbuilding in Brooklyn, New York, ordering the company’s Playmate. He paid $7,495 (around $134,370 today) which included certain modifications, among them a dual-engine set-up and a black painted hull instead of the original stock white colour. At a later date a ‘flying bridge’ was added to the boat. She was delivered to the author in Miami. From Miami, Hemingway, a friend of his and a representative from Wheeler took her to Key West, on the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys.
The name of the boat came from the nickname for Hemingway’s then second wife-to-be, Pauline. He would later use the name Pilar for the female leader of the partisans in his For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), his novel about the Spanish Civil War. And it is said that if he ever had a daughter, he would name her Pilar (he had three sons, Jack, nicknamed ‘Bumby’, Patrick and Gregory, called ‘Gigi’). The author used his beloved boat for trips off the waters of Key West and the Gulf Stream off the coast of Cuba for fishing tuna and marlin.
In late November 1942, Hemingway converted Pilar into a patrol boat and armed her with light machine guns, hand grenades, bazookas and explosives. At this time, the Gulf Stream and its surrounding waters had many German submarines lurking about and in the early stage of the war, German submarines had been sinking merchant vessels in the North Atlantic almost however it suited them. Pilar was disguised as a scientific vessel performing experiments for the American Museum of Natural History. Sanctioned by Spruille Braden, American ambassador to Cuba, Hemingway patrolled these waters with his ‘Q-boat’ – which was the name of civilian decoy vessels during the First World War – to the end of the late winter of 1944 – of course Pilar never encountered any German submarines or vessels. In his book Hemingway’s Boat (2011), Paul Hendrickson writes:
The whole enterprise earned the contempt of Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was convinced her husband was trying to avoid, or at least delay, going to the war in Europe as a correspondent, as well as trying to get in some free fishing with his hangers-on, meanwhile burning up gasoline courtesy of the American government.
But it seemed Gellhorn was wrong. Hendrickson continues:
While Operation Friendless (Hemingway had named the reconnaissance patrols for one of the cats at the finca) often got polluted in the usual Hemingway manner with far too much alcohol and ego, there were, at base, courageous motivations at work. Hemingway and his boat performed needed – and dangerous – picket duties, keeping watch on uncounted inlets, bays, uninhabited keys.
Fiasco or not, Hemingway and his 6- to 8-man crew on his Q-boat Pilar met with the disapprobation, to say the least, by the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, who had received reports and kept a file on the author since the Civil War in Spain. Hoover was convinced that Hemingway was a Communist and a drunk and philanderer – no one would argue the accuracy about the two latter things.
Unfortunately, Hendrickson writes very little about Pilar’s 14 months as a patrol boat on the waters outside of Cuba. However, as the sub-title of his book says, “Everything he Loved in Life, and Lost”, this is not only about Hemingway’s boat, despite the book title.
Here is a short video clip with Paul Hendrickson talking about his book and Pilar:
After I had inspected the cabin of Pilar, I went up to the deck. There I began talking to a gentleman sitting in a deck chair, Walt Schultz, who is the founder and president of Shannon Boat Company. Schultz participates in all activities related to the company: boat design and production, administration, accounting, marketing, sales, etc. He has also written numerous articles for yachting magazines. He told me that he became interested in Pilar after reading Hendrickson’s book, and here he was onboard the replica of Hemingway’s boat, which is supporting wounded war veterans.
However, sitting where we sat, on the deck of the replica of Pilar, our conversation soon slipped over to Hemingway.
‘I started to go to Key West in the 1970s,’ Schultz said, ‘when there were still people down there who had known Hemingway’. He paused for a while before he resumed, “I could not find one single person who had anything good to say about him…’ Schultz waited for my reaction, but as I was wearing sunglasses, just as Schultz, he could not see how my left eyebrow shivered. He then continued: ‘When Hemingway left Key West for Cuba [in the spring of 1939] everyone who had known Hemingway or encountered him in bars, restaurants and the harbour rejoiced that he had left the Keys. People just thought that he was a very mean person, who argued with people and started fights and so on’.
‘Of course, Key West is now destroyed by all the cruising ships that docks there,’ Schultz said.
Mr Schultz and I continued to chat about Pilar for a while longer. Before leaving the boat, I put a couple of bucks in a jar on a table to help SRMHF in their important work to help wounded veterans and others with disabilities to get out on the water on the beautiful replica Pilar.
Right now, SRMHF is having an essay contest where the subject to write about is ‘The best way to improve access to enjoyable outdoors activities for disabled veterans and other people with physical mobility issues’. The essay should not exceed 200 words and comes with an entry fee. The contest ends on 31 October 2016. First prize is a 1993 Shannon Custom Downeast 36′ Motor Yacht! Read more about the essay contest here.